Zombie season’s over! As always at Interlagos, it was an entertaining Grand Prix, with some rather surprising results. Behind the Red Bulls, that is. Warning: spoilers.
Except for one minor detail, the 2011 Formula One season’s last race at wonderful Interlagos was such a perfect microcosm of every race since that long-ago March day in Melbourne that it could serve as fine kindling for my conspiracy theory that everything in Formula One, down to the smallest detail and every feint of the steering wheel before a Jenson Button pass, is scripted by Bernie Ecclestone in his supervillain hideout built inside a dormant and unmapped volcanic cone in the Southern Ocean. Strike that: a live volcanic cone.
For what constituted the 2011 Formula One season? Our bullet list is here to help:
- Sebastian Vettel breaks a record: check! He qualified on pole for the 15th time in the season, breaking Nigel Mansell’s 14 from 1992.
- Jenson Button drives an amazing race: check! He qualified third, lost a place to Fernando Alonso, then came back and passed him to finish third, his 12th podium in the season, three more than in his championship year.
- Lewis Hamilton runs into trouble: check! A failed gearbox put him out of the race after 46 laps, leaving him 5th in the championship and behind his teammate for the first time in his life.
- Mark Webber is outqualified and left behind by the end of the first lap: check! Webber was two-tenths behind Vettel after qualifying, then dropped 1.2 seconds behind by the time lap one was over.
- Fernando Alonso outperforms his Ferrari: check! He finished fourth, after a great pair of back-to-back passes over the race with Jenson Button for third.
- Michael Schumacher disappoints: check! He qualified 10th and finished 15th.
And so on. The one minor detail which prevented this race from becoming a tiny 2011 by itself was the fact that Mark Webber passed Sebastian Vettel for the lead on lap 30, after 25 laps of Vettel nursing a gearbox trouble. It was a strange sort of gearbox trouble. He received repeated and increasingly serious warnings about it over the radio, he kept having to short-shift and use taller gears, but it didn’t prevent him from running fastest laps in the second half of the race behind Webber, who finally scored a victory with his RB7, the car Vettel drove to 11 wins. It was quite unlike Ayrton Senna’s gearbox trouble here at the 1991 race, when he had to finish the race stuck in sixth gear (think about that). And it all resulted in a bad day of the Sebastian Vettel variety: second place instead of his 22nd win.
After the five-way battle of 2010, it was a rather Schumacher-esque season, with Vettel’s championship not in any serious doubt after the first four races. There were great races—Silverstone, Hungary, and, above all, Canada—great fights in the midfield, a great display of alien perfection from the Red Bull team, and a great pair of rookies: Sergio Pérez and Paul di Resta. But it was always a field of 23 humans and one…what do you call a 24-year-old kid with 30 pole positions, 21 Grand Prix wins and two F1 world championships?
Slightly worrisome is the fact that regulations will not change significantly for the next two years, and that Red Bull’s technical and driver team will remain in place. It’s hard to see how anyone can beat the fourth iteration of a back-to-back championship-winning Adrian Newey car, which must be in the works since June or so. With Sebastian Vettel driving it.
Then again, McLaren and Ferrari can always pull something out of the bag, and then there’s the insane talent acquisition at Mercedes over the year, which may result in something magnificent next year. Or not. We’ll see. Thanks for coming along for the Crayola-fueled ride, and there’s always a next season.
Guest illustration—in soft pastel instead of Crayola—by Natalie Polgar. Gallery curated by Natalie Polgar. Photography by Paul Gilham/Getty Images, Mark Thompson/Getty Images and Clive Mason/Getty Images.